Blue Bombers ‘taking it all in’ ahead of GC109
Right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick did a little dance, managing to move his 319 pounds in several directions at one time.
Long snapper Mike Benson was one of several players taking photos with a cell phone. There were handshakes and hugs.
For a group of players looking to add their names to the CFL history books, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers looked pretty relaxed Saturday in the final walk through for Sunday’s 109th Grey Cup game.
“We’re all just taking it all in,” said offensive tackle Stanley Bryant, named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Lineman for an unprecedented fourth time earlier in the week. “It’s a lot of guys’ first time here, so they’re just embracing, taking good pictures. At the end of the day we’re locked down and know what we are here for.”
109th Grey Cup
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After a week of practicing in flesh-freezing temperatures and spending long hours in the film room, Saturday was a welcome chance to enjoy some sun and have a little fun.
“All week it’s been media, staying in the hotel, practicing here and there,” said Bryant. “Today is a time to sit back, reflect, get your thoughts together for tomorrow, think about the plays you are going to make, the things you need to do to come out and help us win.”
Hardrick’s soft-shoe routine on the Mosaic Stadium turf earned a thumbs up from Bryant.
“He’s been a great dancer all season,” Bryant said. “He has all the moves. He’s very energetic and loves to dance.”
The Bombers will try to be the first team in over 40 years to win three consecutive CFL championships when they face the Toronto Argonauts in the final game of the 2022 season.
The last team to manage a Grey Cup three-peat was Edmonton who won five consecutive titles between 1978 and 1982.
The Bombers appeared in five Grey Cups in six years between 1957 and 1962, strangely all against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They won back-to-back titles in 1958-59 and 1961-62.
Bryant wasn’t aware the Bombers have a chance to make franchise history. Defensive tackle Willie Jefferson didn’t care.
“The players, the coaching staff couldn’t care less,” said Jefferson. “That has never been out of the objectives in our meetings or the focus point of our journey.
“We just wanted to be the best team at the end of the season.”
A focus of attention this week has been the ankle that quarterback Zach Collaros injured late in the Bombers’ Western Final victory over the BC Lions.
Collaros practiced with the team Friday and said it didn’t bother him Saturday.
“I have the same feelings before any game,” said Collaros, voted the league’s Most Outstanding Player for a second consecutive season. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities in sport to go out there, play and prove yourself.
“Whether it’s Week 1 or Grey Cup, I certainly feel those butterflies and some level of anxiety, excitement, all those things.”
The Bombers head into the game heavy favourites but are not taking Toronto lightly. The Argonaut’s last Grey Cup appearance was in 2017 when they finished 9-9 but defeated a Calgary Stampeder team that was 13-4-1.
“You can lose any game, so you’ve got to always prepare to win and not be overconfident,” said defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.
“We’ve got to play physical, we’ve got to play Winnipeg football. We’re not cocky. We respect our opponent.”
One of the Argonauts who will be especially motivated is running back Andrew Harris, a big part of the Bombers back-to-back championships. Harris signed a free-agent deal with Toronto this year after not being happy with the contract Winnipeg offered him.
Bomber linebacker Adam Bighill knows Harris would like nothing more than to beat his old team in the biggest game of the year.
“He’s going to run with everything he has,” said Bighill. “We know what that looks like, he helped us win Grey Cups doing it. This will be exactly the same with a little extra finish on every run.
“It’s what we expect.”
Stopping Harris will be a team effort.
“It’s never about one-on-one, it’s about our defensive front against their front,” said Bighill. “We believe in our physicality, we believe in our execution.
“We know what they’re trying to do and how they want attack. Now it’s just getting down to the physicality part. That’s what were trying to win.”
Toronto quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the CFL this year completing 387 of 579 passes for 4,731 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“He’s a smart quarterback, he sees the field well,” said Bighill. “He’s a quarterback that tries to be in control, tries to play a lot of scenarios in his head before the ball is snapped. That gives him a bit of a leg up on a lot of opponents.”
Bethel-Thompson has a group of receivers that includes Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (81 catches for 1,101 yards, five touchdowns), DaVaris Daniels (61 catches, 860 yards, four TDs) and Markeith Ambles (72 catches, 737 yards, five TDs).
“They are one of the receiving corps that does not have a weak link,” said All-Star defensive back Deatrick Nichols. “All the players they put on the field are very dynamic and can make a play at any moment.”
The Argonauts defence, led by All-Star cornerback Jamel Peters, led the CFL with 29 interceptions and 48 forced turnovers.
“They’re a physical bunch,” said Collaros, who threw for 4,183 yards and a league-high 37 touchdowns. “They make you pay if you make mistakes.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us for sure.”
Bighill said winning a Grey Cup comes down to preparation. He compares it to writing a final exam.
“Imagine going into a test not studying, you’re going to feel anxious,” he said. “For me, there was no stone left unturned. I’ve done all the work, I know what to expect.
“I’m ready to go.”